State officials viewed Steele intel reports as ‘flaky,' 'extreme' before dossier sent to FBI
Newly declassified memos detail suspicions about British spy's work dating to 2014.
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Newly declassified documents show FBI informer Christopher Steele routinely submitted intelligence reports to the Obama State Department long before his anti-Trump dossier in 2016, but senior officials didn't always find the former MI6 agent's work credible.
Through a U.S. official he befriended named Jonathan Winer, Steele was able to distribute intelligence reports from his Orbis Business Intelligence firm to the highest levels of State, including an ambassador and then-Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland, who oversaw Russia and Ukraine policy, the memos show.
"Some of this rings true, some not," Nuland wrote in response to a March 23, 2015 email containing one of Steele's reports, titled "Growing Political Instability In Kiev and Yulia's Return to Power."
The emails were made public Friday by the conservative watchdog Judicial Watch, which joined the Daily Caller News Foundation to sue State to force their release.
The group's president, Tom Fitton, said the emails show there were red flags about the quality of Steele's work long before he provided his anti-Trump dossier in summer 2016 to the FBI, which then used the uncorroborated materials to support a surveillance warrant targeting the Trump campaign.
Recently declassified documents show the FBI found widespread problems with Steele's reporting, including that some material was fed to him by Russian intelligence as disinformation, that some of his facts were wrong, and that his primary sub-source disputed or downplayed much of the information attributed to him.
Fitton said the emails show Steele had "a willing partner with the Obama State Department — despite top officials having little confidence in his work" — and that the FBI should not have trusted his dossier.
"These documents demonstrate that the Obama administration had multiple warning signs that Steele was unreliable — yet they used his garbage Dossier to target and spy on President Trump," Fitton added.
Steele has steadfastly defended his work, though he admitted much of what he provided the FBI was uncorroborated. He recently was ordered by a British court to pay a small fine to two Russian businessmen who claimed they were defamed by one of his dossier reports.
The newly released State emails show Winer often vouched for Steele inside State and distributed his reports.
For instance, Winer wrote a July 22, 2014 email telling Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for European Affairs Paul Jones and Nuland, "I've told Chris Steele at Orbis I think the material is great, and I will continue to retransmit as he sends them to me."
Some welcomed the information, like Jones, who in a Sept. 4, 2014 email wrote of Steele's work: "Credible, useful — tx as always!"
Nuland seemed less impressed at times.
"This is one of those industry intel reports. Rings a bit extreme to me. You guys?" Nuland wrote in forwarding one of Steele's reports in December 2014 to then-U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Geoffrey Pyatt.
A year later, Pyatt responded to another of Steele's reports on Ukraine with a dismissive assessment. "So I would put this in the same category as their other flaky reports," the ambassador wrote.
Steele's access and ability to distribute his intelligence reports inside the Obama State Department has taken on new significance and concern since a recently declassified set of footnotes in a Justice Department revealed the CIA believed Steele had grown too close to Russian oligarch and was the victim of Russian disinformation.
The FBI was warned that the Steele dossier was potentially influenced by a "Russian disinformation campaign to denigrate U.S. foreign relations," one footnote released this summer revealed.
The emails released to Judicial Watch remained heavily redacted despite President Trump's order earlier this week to declassify and release all documents in the Russia probe without redactions.